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Originally published Thursday, June 19, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Greenpeace gives grocery chains failing grades on seafood buying practices

Greenpeace stirred the waters of the seafood industry this week with a report rating seafood buying practices at 20 of the nation's largest...

Seattle Times business reporter

Greenpeace stirred the waters of the seafood industry this week with a report rating seafood buying practices at 20 of the nation's largest supermarket chains. One industry group called the report garbage, and federal regulators said it contains errors.

The environmental activist group wants to hold stores accountable for "their role in supporting unsustainable fisheries," according to a news release. The ratings focus on overfishing and other environmental issues in the $70 billion global seafood market.

The highest ratings went to Whole Foods, Ahold USA and Harris Teeter, which received scores of 4 on a 10-point scale.

Costco Wholesale in Issaquah received 2 points from Greenpeace, which docked the warehouse chain for not having an official sustainable seafood policy and for stocking its shelves with 15 species that are on Greenpeace's "red list," which includes Alaska pollock and South Atlantic albacore tuna.

Costco did not respond to Greenpeace requests for information but said in an interview on Wednesday that it works with the World Wildlife Fund and others to ensure that it is a responsible seafood buyer.

"Our resources are scarce; I agree with Greenpeace on that," said Jeff Lyons, Costco's senior vice president of fresh foods.

Costco tests for PCBs, dioxins, antibiotics and other chemicals in seafood where it is a concern. The company is working on a sustainability platform for all its products, he said.

Kroger, which owns Fred Meyer and QFC, also rated 2 points from Greenpeace. A Fred Meyer spokeswoman said there are "many, many guidelines out there when it comes to sustainably sourcing seafood. We ask our suppliers to provide us with detailed information about the sustainability of the seafood we receive from them."

Gavin Gibbons at the National Fisheries Institute, which represents the U.S. seafood industry from fishermen to restaurants and grocers, scoffed at Greenpeace's "red list" of 22 species it says are destructively fished and farmed.

"If I were giving consumer advice about this list, I would suggest they ball it up and throw it in a trash can," Gibbons said. "It's almost laughable to suggest Alaska pollock be on the list."

Regulators at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) scratched their heads over pollock and other species chosen by Greenpeace.

"Alaska pollock is an example of one of the most successfully managed species in the world," said Steve Murawski, chief scientist for NOAA's Fisheries Service.

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"We think there are some bum data in the document," he said, including Greenpeace's claim that the Atlantic sea scallop fishery kills nearly 1,000 loggerhead sea turtles each year while foraging in scallop beds.

"It's hard to figure out what their criteria are, and we would contend that many of these species are well managed," he said. NOAA tracks the sustainability of many species through a program called FishWatch, which consumers can access at www.nmfs.noaa.gov/fishwatch.

Murawski also took issue with Greenpeace using the term "red list."

"The International Union for Conservation of Nature has a red list of species that are in danger of extinction," he said. "They've hijacked the term, which is not doing people a service."

Melissa Allison: 206-464-3312 or mallison@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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